Ice Network

Edmunds makes triumphant return to Salt Lake City

Hicks wins free, comes away with silver; Nagasu falters into fifth
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Polina Edmunds wasn't at her best in her free skate Saturday night, but the U.S. silver medalist still pulled out a 2.21-point victory over Courtney Hicks. -Jay Adeff

Two years ago, Polina Edmunds arrived in Salt Lake City to compete at the U.S. Challenge Skate, the event U.S. Figure Skating runs parallel to the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic to give promising novices and juniors a chance to experience the feel of an international event.

The then 14-year-old, who finished sixth in junior ladies at the previous year's U.S. championships, had not received a Junior Grand Prix (JGP) assignment. She placed second at the inaugural Challenge Skate behind Selena Zhao, who now competes for Canada.

"We've come a long way since then," Edmunds' coach, David Glynn, said with masterful understatement.

The road was fast but not always easy. In January 2013, Edmunds won the U.S. junior title but wasn't part of the world junior team. The determined skater won both her 2013 JGP events and, a few months later, the silver medal at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Top-10 finishes at the Olympic Winter Games and 2014 World Figure Skating Championships followed.

Now the road has led her back to Salt Lake City -- and Edmunds' first senior international title.

"I have come a long way, but at the same time, it was all part of a process," she said. "Two years ago, this competition was a stepping stone for me to get to junior worlds, and that didn't happen, but I still built off of it. It helped get me to the Olympics, and now I'm here."

Edmunds, who led after the short on Friday, gave a sparkling performance of her intricate, choreographically challenging free skate to the Peter Pan soundtrack, including back-to-back opening triple-triple combinations. A fall on a triple loop late in her program, as well as under-rotation calls on a double Axel and triple Lutz, put her second in the free to U.S. teammate Courtney Hicks.

"I pushed through everything and fought for all of my elements, which I'm happy about," Edmunds said. "Of course, I am disappointed I fell on my loop. It was kind of to my left, and I didn't hold on to it. For the most part, I'm happy I did everything."

It's yet another building block for Edmunds, who will compete against skaters like Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia at her first Grand Prix event, Cup of China, in early November.

"I definitely feel training will be easier because I've already done a few competitions (including Glacier Falls Summer Classic) and skated well at them," she said. "I'm taking away that I know how I need to feel to execute all of my elements, and I just want to work now on the performance and details of my program."

For Glynn, who trains Edmunds in San Jose, California, a look back at the Challenge Skate of two years ago sets in motion thoughts of where they might be two years from now.

"Flying here and then driving from the airport, we were reminiscing -- Polina's mom (Nina Edmunds), Polina and I," he said. "That's what skating is all about -- it's a journey. You go to these competitions year in and year out, you learn and you grow, and there are ups and there are downs. It's great to be back in Salt Lake City."

Hicks had a speedy, near-clean outing to music from the 2012 film version of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, opening with a triple flip-triple toe combination, with a turn between the jumps.

The choreography, done by Jonathan Cassar, built throughout, mimicking the Tolstoy heroine's mounting hysteria and despair. Hicks impressed with spins and steps that all gained Level 3 or 4, and her final spin, a sit spin combination, was especially inventive. She earned 115.24 for the free and won silver with 174.14 points overall.

"I really tried to get into the performance," Hicks said. "Because of the altitude, I was kind of dying, but I think it kind of helped because my character dies at the end. This was my highest-ever international score, so I'm very happy about that."

Alex Chang, who coaches Hicks with Jere Michael in Southern California, thinks playing a character helps his skater interpret the music.

"You want to have a full, well-rounded picture," Chang said. "Anna has vulnerability, strength -- there is a lot Courtney can use. She's a very rounded character. We're working with Courtney to not only be a strong skater but also a strong performer."

Just 2.20 points separated the next three finishers.

Riona Kato rated fifth in the free, but due to her superb short, she captured the bronze medal with 161.69 points. The 16-year-old Japanese skater opened well, with a triple flip-double toe and triple Salchow, but faltered on her triple flip and triple Lutz.

After an impressive opening triple Lutz-single loop-triple Salchow combination, Alaine Chartrand of Canada had jump trouble in her Dr. Zhivago free, with several triples judged under-rotated or downgraded. She placed fourth with 161.95 points.

U.S. bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu began her Madame Butterfly program with a solid triple flip-double toe combination, and also landed a triple Lutz and triple loop. She lost points with a downgrade and two under-rotation calls, but the program -- especially a closing section featuring an Ina Bauer, spiral, double Axel and layback spin -- has promise. She was third in the free and fifth overall with 159.49 points.

"I'm pretty disappointed, because in training I've been skating a lot stronger than that," Nagasu said. "It is what it is. I'm just going to take this to my first Grand Prix and work harder because I feel like I held back here, which is really disappointing for me."

Tom Zakrajsek, who began coaching Nagasu in Colorado Springs this spring, thinks his pupil will be ready for a strong Grand Prix season with some adjustments.

"Her practices here went very well," he said. "When she was on her warm-up, she was skating very fast, tracking, doing clean triple flip-triple toe, double Axel-triple toe and triple Salchow.

"For me as a coach, I learned so much about how to help her not pull back. It was obvious in both programs there was quality and training, but she mentally pulled back."

Competing in her first senior international event, U.S. junior silver medalist Ashley Shin had one of those nights where the jumps just weren't there, but the 16-year-old Texan learned some important lessons. She placed seventh with 125.42 points.

"I definitely need to make my presentation more like a senior lady," she said. "I should enjoy this more. I want to skate with confidence and joy."